My last international trip was during the summer of 2015. On this trip I traveled with my parents to London and Amsterdam for 8 days (including travel time). We had been to London a few times before, so this time we were able to do some more unique things like visiting a lavender field just north of the city. If you’re visiting London during the summer months I’d highly recommend doing this!
In London we stayed at the Sofitel London St. James, which was ideally placed within Central London. I let my parents pick the hotel in London, and I couldn't complain about their decision. In the past I've loved staying in South Kensington or Knightsbridge, but it's hard to beat the Sofitel's location. When I lived in London during a few summers (2007, 2009 and 2011), I lived in Bayswater and South Kensington, so I love the feel of the neighborhoods just outside the major tourist areas. However, the Sofitel St. James was pretty amazing. A stone’s throw from many London highlights, we were able to set out early in the morning and make pit stops at the hotel throughout the day to recharge.
Our first day, we checked into the hotel and headed straight to the Churchill War Rooms. None of us had been before, so we were interested to check it out. The Churchill War Rooms is an extensive museum that takes a detailed look at Churchill’s life and legacy. While I’m glad we visited, we might have been better off going another day. We had come straight off the plane, dropped our bags off at the hotel, grabbed some coffee (If you’re in London, don’t go to Starbucks! Try to visit local coffee shops or one of their local chains (Costa, Caffe Nero, Pret A Manger, etc.)) and headed straight to the museum. With how extensive the museum is, we were pretty exhausted halfway through.
On our way back to the hotel we walked through St. James Park, which has a fantastic view of Buckingham Palace and the London Eye. After a bit of a rest, we headed over to Mayfair for some window shopping and dinner at The Footman, which was recommended to us by the hotel concierge. I would highly recommend dinner and drinks at The Footman; we had a bit of an early meal, but the pub was lively and the food amazing. After dinner we walked to Hyde Park. Strolling through London’s beautiful public parks is one of my favorite past times. It’s hard to beat the views!
The next day, we headed to the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty. We booked our tickets online, which ended up being a smart decision. I’d heard the exhibition consistently sold out day after day, so I paid the booking fee online to ensure we would get in. It was worth it! I missed Savage Beauty when it was at The Met in NYC, so it was great to have the opportunity to see it again. Following our time at the V&A, we again wandered around Mayfair before heading to SkyGarden for dinner with a view. SkyGarden quickly joined my “must do” list for London. It’s a bit off the beaten path, and requires some planning, but the views are amazing! We had dinner at Darwin, and we all raved about our meals. If you’re heading to London please put SkyGarden on your “to do” list - it’s so worth it!
The following day my parents and I headed to Hitchin Lavender Field, just north of London. Like I said earlier, I’d definitely recommend doing this! A hot spot with locals, Hitchin Lavender Field allows visitors to pick lavender while experiencing the surrounding working farm. There is also a little cafe and shop to enjoy!
On July 26th we headed to Amsterdam. A quick flight from Heathrow, we were all excited to explore a new city. While in Amsterdam we stayed at the newly renovated and recently opened Waldorf Astoria. Ideally situated, the Waldorf Astoria was a gorgeous and luxurious getaway within the city. Our first day in Amsterdam happened to fall right after a large storm passed through, so while we spent most of the day wandering the idyllic streets, we also noticed turned up tree trunks and mild damage around the city. We felt lucky to be there the day after the storm!
The day after we arrived in Amsterdam, we took a day trip outside of the city. We made a few stops, which included: Delft, Volendam, and Zaanse Schans. South of Amsterdam, Delft is known as the manufacturing capital for Delftware. Traditionally designed in a blue and white pattern, Delftware now incorporates vibrant colors and designs. After a few hours in Delft and a few Delftware purchases, we made our way north to Volendam. Located along the Markermeer Lake, Volendam is known for its colorful wooden houses and old fishing boats docked in the harbor. We had lunch in Volendam and enjoyed a traditional meal of Lekkerbekje/Kibbeling, which is the Dutch version of fish and chips. (Throughout our trip we also tried Bitterballen, Stroopwafel (SO good), Poffertjes, and Pannenkoeken.) After some time in Volendam, we continued to our last stop of the day: Zaanse Schans. Zaanse Schans is well worth the trip, as it showcases a number of well-preserved and working windmills and houses. It was beautiful!
The next day we took a walking tour with WOW Tours. We met in front of the Royal Palace and set out on our three hour tour with a small group. I am a big fan of walking tours, as they provide historical insight into the city and an orientation to important sights around a new city. After our walking tour and a quick lunch at the hotel, we headed to the Rijksmuseum and explored the area around the museum. Expect large crowds at any tourist site if you’re in Europe during the summer months! This was definitely true for the Rijksmuseum. Despite the crowds we were able to view the must-see pieces within the Rijks and enjoy the surrounding areas.
On July 29th we headed to the Anne Frank House, which was an emotional trip. I’d highly recommend visiting the museum, as well as booking your tickets well in advance. The line for entry into the museum typically lasts 2-3 hours, but with pre-booking you will only wait about 30 minutes. Unfortunately I struggled to truly embrace the experience, as the museum was incredibly crowded. I definitely understand why, as they’re trying to allow as many visitors as appropriate. However, it was extremely difficult to move at your own pace. Whether I wanted to linger in a room or continue along the tour, I was essentially moving at the pace set by the crowd at large. Despite this, I think visiting the Anne Frank House is extremely important for anyone visiting Amsterdam. I’d also recommend reading Anne Frank’s diary prior to visiting the museum, as doing so provides historical insight into her life, World War II, and how Amsterdam was affected by the tragedy.
Following the Anne Frank House, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum. Again, we had pre-booked our tickets for this visit. I honestly can’t recommend pre-booking experiences enough. We saved so much time by not waiting in lines! Following the Van Gogh Museum we hopped on a one-hour canal cruise. Canal cruises are another great way to see the city, and won’t set you back too much financially. There are also private canal cruises available, but we opted for the larger canal cruise. If I were to go back to Amsterdam again I’d love to book a private canal cruise for a different experience!
Just like that, our time abroad was over and we headed back home. I always love visiting London, but it was so great to explore a new city too! Excitingly, I’m heading to London in March for a few days! My dad and I are attending an Arsenal football match, which will be a fun new experience. If you have any recommendations for what to do in London in early Spring (late Winter?) let me know!